Former and Current EPA Employees Denounce Trump’s Pick for Top Administrator

By Yessenia Funes Feb 07, 2017

Many current and former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees are not fans of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to lead the agency. And they’re doing what they can to stop his confirmation. 

More than 400 former EPA employees delivered a letter to the Senate yesterday (February 6) offering their nonpartisan view on the nominee.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt has been involved in at least 14 lawsuits against the EPA. He’s also skeptical about climate change science, writing in May 2016 for the National Review that the global warming debate “is far from settled” even though 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree climate change is real and that humans are the main driver.

The letter representing 400+ former EPA employees asserts that “Mr. Pruitt’s record raises serious questions about whose interests he has served to date and whether he agrees with the longstanding tenets of U.S. environmental law.” 

The letter highlights the gains the agency has accomplished since its inception in 1970. And, as they write, many landmark changes happened before problems were well understood. Limiting lead in gasoline in the ’70s occurred before “all doubt about its harmfulness to public health was erased.” The same goes for reducing fine particle pollution.

The letter authors make the argument that despite whatever doubts exist surrounding climate change, it is the responsibility of the EPA administrator to take precautionary measures to protect the American people when there is sufficient science. They are critical of Pruitt’s ability to uphold that responsibility—especially given his relationship with businesses.

They write:

[Pruitt] signed and sent a letter as Oklahoma Attorney General criticizing EPA estimates of emissions from oil and gas wells, without disclosing that it had been drafted in its entirety by Devon Energy. He filed suit on behalf of Oklahoma to block a California law requiring humane treatment of poultry. The federal court dismissed the case after finding that the lawsuit was brought not to benefit the citizens of Oklahoma but a handful of large egg producers perfectly capable of representing their own interests. To mount his challenge to EPA’s rule to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, he took the unusual step of accepting free help from a private law firm. By contrast, there is little or no evidence of Mr. Pruitt taking initiative to protect and advance public health and environmental protection in his state. Mr. Pruitt’s office has apparently acknowledged 3,000 emails and other documents reflecting communications with certain oil and gas companies, but has yet to make any of these available in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed more than two years ago.

It is not just former EPA employees pushing back. Current employees are, too. About 300 people, including agency workers, rallied at the Chicago regional headquarters yesterday. "I think Pruitt will shackle us," said Sherry Estes, an EPA enforcement attorney, to the Associated Press.

Federal employees aren’t the first to speak out against the nominee. Latinx organizations have voiced opposition, and The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda issued a statement against the EPA nominee in December. “Latinos need strong enforcement of environmental laws to protect our health and economic well-being,” said Hector Sanchez, who chairs the coalition of 40 Latinx advocacy organizations. “Pruitt’s nomination is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. If he runs the EPA, Latino and other Americans’ lives will be put at risk.”

Senate Democrats do not support his confirmation either. They boycotted his confirmation meetings on February 1-2, leading the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to confirm Pruitt by temporarily suspending committee rules. Pruitt still awaits full Senate approval. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled.